By Sophia David ‘21, Reporter, and Leah Anderson ‘21, Guest Contributor
--Imagine scuba diving instead of math class and sailing trips instead of English papers.
These outdoor experiences and many more were part of Lyla Forman ’20’s everyday life at The Island School in the Bahamas where she spent her fall semester. The Island School is a unique educational center where students spend a semester of high school immersed in nature as they learn. The School’s mission is to develop a sense of place in students, model sustainability in individual lifestyles, and create an international community. It does all of these things through experiential learning, focusing on hands-on work and new experiences. Lyla originally discovered the school online. As soon as she read about it, she said that she knew she “would be really happy there.”
Sustainability is one of the key aspects of The Island School’s identity. Not only does the school itself strive to be self-sustaining, but much of the curriculum also centers around this important topic. Lessons about sustainability are also shown outside of the traditional classroom. In order to enhance the students’ appreciation and understanding of sustainability each semester, the school has a pig slaughter. Everyone gathers to watch a pig get killed, and then they eat the pig.
Caleb Florence is a former math teacher at The Island School. He taught a course called applied mathematics, which, among other things, incorporated calculations about the schools’ water system. While teaching students important algebra and statistics skills, he also raised their awareness of the importance of preserving water reservoirs. When asked about the pig slaughter, Mr. Florence explains that, although attending is optional, it is highly encouraged. This pig slaughter is a graphic and sad experience, but it teaches students where their food comes from, which leads to consciousness of wasted food and efforts to waste less. Lyla mentioned this event as one of the most important ways that the school taught her about sustainability.
Attending The Island School also gives students the opportunity to learn more about themselves. Mr. Florence said he was drawn to teaching at The Island School because he loved to “help students pursue their passions and things that they were interested in.” He said that this in turn would “help them to develop their sense of self and sense of worth as they find a place in the world.” The Island School certainly had this effect on Lyla, who said that, after her time there, she figured out a lot of what she wants to do in life, including traveling, being in the water, and learning experientially.
Time at The Island School is not without challenges. Lyla explains that she was not allowed to use her iPhone or laptop. She was only allowed one twenty-minute phone call per week, and letters to and from home would take weeks to be delivered. Since she was living so far from her family, this was especially difficult. However, this lack of technology is crucial to the successful building of the tight-knit community. Mr. Florence and Lyla both remark on the quick rate at which close communities are built at the Island School. At the school, there is a constant turnover of students each semester, and one might assume that this could make it difficult to build up a strong sense of community. Yet, Lyla explained this was not the case, because due to the fact that no one has his or her phone, everyone’s free time is spent talking with one another, and friendships are formed quickly. She also remarks that her short time at The Island School was one of the things that made it so special.
Returning to Friends’ Central after her time away was an adjustment for Lyla. She describes the classes at The Island School as “not being very structured and including a lot of learning outside.” As a result of the school’s environment, the students were able to learn in ways that would not be possible elsewhere. For example, for a history paper, Lyla took a “down-island” trip to study how tourism shapes a community. Although many aspects of The Island School are dependent on its unique environment, some of their sustainability practices could be implemented in the urban environment of Friends’ Central also.
Overall, Lyla had an amazing experience at The Island School, and she encourages others to look into it too, saying, “If anyone is interested in The Island School, they should definitely apply.”